Italy, for the childhood Roy Paine, had meant Ferrari, spaghetti, Gina Lollobrigida, Sophia Loren, defensive football and dirty fouls. He’d known little about the two actresses except that their names signified an enticing sultriness and an allure that drew power from being unreliable.
There was the word “Pirelli” too, meaning a type of calendar he’d first glimpsed on the office wall of the car dealer from whom Don bought his Jags. In Roy’s earliest boyhood, Italy had also meant tanks with ten gears, nine of them reverse.
Mostly, though, Italy had been the home of dishonourable football, second only to Argentina in the league table of soccer sin. Celtic’s defeat of Inter Milan in the 1967 European Cup Final had been absorbed by the pubescent Roy as a moral victory for flair over the evil of catenaccio, although he hadn’t known that word at the time. He’d first discovered it during Italia 90 and now he looked it up for the first time, discovering that it meant “door bolt” or “the chain”.
But the Italy now unveiled on his living room widescreen seemed almost totally rehabilitated. Roy had noticed this evolving over the years, with outraged talk of sneaky negativity being gradually replaced by admiration for the art and anticipation of Costcurta, Baresi and Maldini, especially among young know-alls he overheard talking football in the Square Mile before he lost his job there an was reduced to plying for work on London Bridge, that brief phase of defiance and depression he wished he could forget.
The pundit consensus at Euro 2012 was that the artistic Pirlo was a tournament star and that England would have to get a grip on him if they were to win their quarter final in Kyiv. Roy did not take vindictive pleasure in the almost total failure of his fellow Roy’s team to accomplish this task. Rather, he suffered on his sofa with growing intensity as Italy’s dominance, personified by the strolling Juventus pass-sprayer, failed to produce the goal that would release him from his conflict between irritated cynicism and the last, stubborn fragments of patriotic hope.
His ordeal dragged on right through extra time, an outcome that raised the painful possibility of England reaching the semi-finals by way of a penalty shoot-out despite having been hammered nil-nil. But Roy took comfort from precedent. And, sure enough, Italy prevailed. Roy slumped, exhausted and yet freed at last from a great weight. He noted that Kristie hadn’t called.
All previous instalments of Roy’s Summer of Sport are HERE.
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